Utilization Probability Map for Migrating Bald Eagles in Northeastern North America: A Tool for Siting Wind Energy Facilities and Other Flight Hazards
Collisions with anthropogenic structures are a significant and well documented source of mortality for avian species worldwide. The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is known to be vulnerable to collision with wind turbines and federal wind energy guidelines include an eagle risk assessment for new projects. To address the need for risk assessment, in this study, we 1) identified areas of northeastern North America utilized by migrating bald eagles, and 2) compared these with high wind-potential areas to identify potential risk of bald eagle collision with wind turbines. We captured and marked 17 resident and migrant bald eagles in the northern Chesapeake Bay between August 2007 and May 2009. We produced utilization distribution (UD) surfaces for 132 individual migration tracks using a dynamic Brownian bridge movement model and combined these to create a population wide UD surface with a 1 km cell size. We found eagle migration movements were concentrated within two main corridors along the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Coast. Of the 3,123 wind turbines ≥100 m in height in the study area, 38% were located in UD 20, and 31% in UD 40. In the United States portion of the study area, commercially viable wind power classes overlapped with only 2% of the UD category 20 (i.e., the areas of highest use by migrating eagles) and 4% of UD category 40. This is encouraging because it suggests that wind energy development can still occur in the study area at sites that are most viable from a wind power perspective and are unlikely to cause significant mortality of migrating eagles. In siting new turbines, wind energy developers should avoid the high-use migration corridors (UD categories 20 & 40) and focus new wind energy projects on lower-risk areas (UD categories 60–100).